Eddy Offord Interview
before YES and ELP there was Giorgio Gomelsky
It was a quote by Eddy Offord in a book on the band YES that set me off on this journey to become the Non-Writer. Almost 5 years ago I became so excited by this quote that I fired off an email to a handful of my closest music friends to let them know what I had discovered. Eddy is well known to us for his amazing engineering and producing skills that helped create some of the finest records made during the classic Prog Rock period of the early 1970’s. In this quote, he mentioned working on a record with the band Material. I don’t remember the context of the quote. In fact, I don’t remember anything else about that YES book. I dropped everything and started looking into this Material recording.
I didn’t have to look far. I’ve had that first Material record, Temporary Music 1, in my collection for decades – multiple versions in fact, on vinyl and CD. Sure enough, there it was in the fine print: engineered by Eddy Offord. It still didn’t make any sense to me. How did this genius of the recording studio for the biggest prog bands to ever fill a stadium with fans end up almost a decade later recording this unknown group Material? Material was certainly no prog band. They formed in 1978 in NYC during a brief but influential post-punk period that got labeled No Wave. Brian Eno would document this “movement” on the album No New York. The key word in those last two sentences is “punk”. Punk Rock became popular in part for utterly lambasting the pretentiousness that had infested much of the Classic Rock of the mid-70’s. And Prog Rock enjoyed a special place in punks crosshairs. No band coming out of post-punk bad-ass NYC in 1979 was going to associate itself with anything Prog. Yet the fine print did not lie … recorded by Eddy Offord at Woodstock NY.
Wait, what!? Woodstock? Here again I’m thrown into a tailspin. Offord was known to have done all his famous work in London. How did he end up in Woodstock? How deep does this apparent connection between prog and post-punk go? More questions are stacking up in my mind. Before I grab my laptop to dive into wikipedia, I take one last look at the liner notes on Temporary Music 1. And there it is. The name that would determine my fate for the next 4+ years and counting: Produced by Giorgio Gomelsky.
It would take me about a year to wrap my head around the idea that maybe I could (and should) write a book about this guy Gomelsky. As I soon found out, his name was not just on that Material album. It was ALL OVER my record collection. How I had never heard of him became just another piece of intrigue that I needed to resolve.
Bill Laswell Interview - when Bill first met Ornette, Miles, Eno … and Gomelsky
Jim McCarty Interview - Giorgio Gomelsky makes The Yardbirds famous and then they fire him
John McLaughlin’s first solo album - and why he doesn’t want to talk about the producer
During that first year of research, I ran into a few people who knew Gomelsky. Some had even worked with him. By the time I started taking the idea of writing a book seriously, there was one person’s story I knew I needed to get; Eddy Offord’s. That was about 3 years ago. In that time I’ve managed to interview many of the key figures in this story I want to tell about the Gomelsky recordings. Other key figures are, sadly, no longer with us. Most of them have left lengthy interviews, books, and other documentation that I’ve been able to find. Not so with Eddy Offord.
For 3 years I could find only scant interviews and book quotations from Eddy, but almost nothing about his work with Gomelsky. Even worse, I could find no way to contact him. He had apparently retired from the music business maybe 2 decades ago. There were some mentions of him sailing around the world with his wife on their own boat. Was he still out there?
Thank god for anniversaries. It so happens that this year, 2022, is the 50th anniversary of the making of the album Close to the Edge by YES. This is one of the most celebrated albums of the classic prog period, and Eddy Offord was the producer. As such, he was being asked for interviews. Since Google knows everything about me, it knew I would want to read one of these interviews, so up it popped on my phone a few weeks ago. I immediately contacted the author, briefly explained why I wanted to talk to Eddy, and asked him to forward my info. He did so right away, and to my surprise, less than a day later I got an email from Eddy letting me know he was happy to help me. My 3 year search was over (thank you Mike Tiano for putting me in touch, miketiano.com). The interview couldn’t have been more fun.
Eddy’s work with Gomelsky goes back to 1965 with The Yardbirds when Eddy was still a fairly new employee at Advision Studio. The self-confessed “nerd” caught on quickly to the many technical duties of studio work. He credits Giorgio with giving him his first break as a full fledged engineer on the song “This Wheel’s On Fire” by Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger and The Trinity. The song became a hit and Eddy’s cachet at the studio was on the rise. Giorgio would continue to record with Eddy on albums by The Keith Tippett Group, John Stevens Spontaneous Music Ensemble, and the first solo album by John McLaughlin “Extrapolation”, and many more.
All of this work with Giorgio left a big impression on Eddy when it came time for him to produce his first record The Yes Album. By then he’d seen many record producers at work, and most seemed to squeeze the life out of their musicians with take after take. He described the atmosphere for the poor performers at most sessions like being in a fish bowl, with all eyes peering out at them from the control room. He remembered how Gomelsky would pause when a session might start to struggle. He’d get everyone chatting informally and bring a more relaxed “vibe” back into the studio before continuing with the session. Eddy would use this approach with YES, and The Yes Album became the first hit for the band, saving their careers at Atlantic Records who were about to drop them.
The coming years would find Eddy working full time for YES, almost as a 6th member of the band. He went on the road with them doing their live sound. He noticed on certain nights the band’s performance would be magical. This inspired him to develop a mobile studio so he could capture these events. Back in London Eddy would take this mobile studio idea to the limit, abandoning the control room entirely in favor of setting up his “mobile” in the live room with the performers, thereby eliminating any barriers between the “technical” engineer and “creative” performers.
By the end of the 70’s Eddy’s reputation in the music business was world wide. When one of the most successful managers in rock music called him to come to Woodstock to work for his record label, Eddy was ready. He shipped his mobile studio from the heart of London to the wide open spaces of Woodstock NY. He fell in love with the area immediately. Not only would he work there for the next couple of years, he would also find his wife, who he would eventually sail around the world with, and is still with today.
During those years at Woodstock, Eddy got a call from his old friend. Giorgio had a new band that he wanted to record. Like Eddy, Giorgio recently moved from Europe to NY. Giorgio was always looking for ways to push boundaries in music, and NY was his new playground. He was soon hooking up some of his old friends in the European progressive avant-garde with like minded musicians he was discovering in the NY “downtown scene”. One of his first projects was to form a backing band for Daevid Allen of the French band Gong. He recruited an unknown bass player that had recently been making the rounds performing at clubs and studio sessions. Bill Laswell immediately hit it off with Gomelsky. With his bass playing as the anchor, they quickly found a few very young men to form a band to tour with Allen. This backing band, know as the Zu Band, was soon writing their own songs. Now Giorgio wanted to make a record with them.
And this is where we see the meeting of prog and post-punk. I’ve interviewed almost everyone that was at this session with the exception of Giorgio, who died in 2016, and Cliff Cultreri who was the guitar player (and I still hope to interview him). Every one of them claims there was very little interaction between Eddy and the band. Eddy himself told me all he can be sure of is that he made the band feel comfortable in the studio, because, that’s what Eddy did. Giorgio apparently made meatballs, because, again that’s what Giorgio did. Influences can be a very subtle thing. Here’s what else I learned from the interviews. The drummer and synth player of Zu Band (soon to be renamed Material), played in an earlier band called 1121. The sound of that band had more in common with Yes, Genesis, and Gentle Giant than it did anything associated with No Wave. At least one of them admitted their sound was “not very fashionable”. Everyone in Zu Band knew who Eddy Offord was. There he was with his mobile studio set up in the middle of the live room. They had 4 songs to record and not a lot of time to do it. Whatever background, influence and attitude each one of them brought into that studio on that day, when it was all over they would find that they had once again pushed on some musical boundaries, with a little help from Giorgio Gomelsky.